Workbench Upgrades

Looking back, it was 2007 when I built my first workbench. While it has served me well in the 13 years since, I have spent many more hours working on it than I have in the past and I’ve started to feel some of its shortcomings. Not wanting to spend a small fortune on a good Sjoberg’s woodworker’s bench, I spent the holidays doing a few worthwhile upgrades.

Retractable Casters

First up is to replace the always-on casters. They’re great for easily moving it around but not so great when trying to do something like plane a board. Even with the brakes, the bench would slide.

These are Spacekeeper Workbench Casters which can support 660lbs. Since they’re replacing much larger casters and mount differently, the overall bench height was lowered approximately 6″. Not ideal, and I gain some back with the next upgrades, but it’s so nice to be able to completely lower it and it doesn’t budge.

New Top

This was the main reason for the upgrades – a new work surface. After the recent work building my kids’ desks, I’ve been envious of benches with bench dog holes. Much of that work would have been simpler if I could have used bench dogs and holdfasts.

Following Rob Cosman’s plans, I decided to make my new top using 4 layers of 3/4″ thick MDF. I’ve never used so much glue in my life.

I didn’t ever want to deal with any sag from the MDF so I decided to keep the original bench top (OSB), just placing the newly laminated 3″ hunk of MDF on top. It’s safe to say this adds quite a bit of heft to the whole table, it’s going nowhere.

Following Rob Cosman’s recommendations, I rounded over everything with a 3/16″ roundover bit, coated the dog holes with superglue for strength, and soaked the top with 8 coats of tung oil. He wasn’t kidding when he said it would just soak up the oil, I’ve used almost 32 ounces. It’s still curing, 2 weeks later.

Tail Vise

Next up was the purchase of a new vise and creating jaws to span the entire end of the bench – to create a decent tail vise. I went with just an inexpensive, medium duty Pony. The jaws were just some junk “value wood” from Menards so I could try out my new jointer.

Dog Holes

For those unfamiliar, dog holes are used to hold various accessories – usually for clamping things down. Small pegs, called bench dogs, often go in them to grip wood between them and a mating dog on the vise (see the blue piece above).

I used a 3/4″ spade/paddle bit and a Portable Drill Guide to make the holes all the way through the bench top. Using a sheet of pegboard, I got the spacing how I wanted, and went to town.

This turned out to be more work than I expected. That thick MDF not only dulled my bits very quickly (had to hand sharpen them every 4 holes), but quickly had me switching to a corded drill I haven’t used in 10 years.

T-Track

While I was at it, I figured I may as well just give myself even more hold-down options. So I installed a T-Track down the center.

Leather Pad

I watch a lot of Adam Savage’s Tested YouTube Channel. His use of a leather pad to protect his benches from glue and accidents was the inspiration for me to scour the internet for a good piece of leather. I succeeded with a wonderful piece of sole bends (I had never heard of that term before looking for this) leather from Brettuns Village Leather Supplies & Trunk Shop. This thing is a monster and should provide plenty of protection for years to come.

Lamp

Ok, this one isn’t new. It’s an Adam Savage one-day-build which Ana purchased components for me for Father’s day. So I got it re-attached, with a French cleat so it can be moved around fairly easily.

Final Product

Here’s what the final product looks like, complete with 8″ holdfasts from MLCS Woodworking.

A quick note on those holdfasts – at first they were not holding at all. Some troubleshooting led me to the problem that the bench was too thick. To fix this, I counterbored the holes from the bottom so that the depth of the holes was around 2.5″ instead of the nearly 4″ original depth. Once that was done, they’re working great.

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